COVER STORY: Tourism efforts get mixed reviews

Posted on 10 May 2013 at 9:15am

Press tour, now in its 10th year, is considered a success, but CVB has nixed outside consultant and scaled back website, which isn’t up to date

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PURPLE PARTY PROPS | Dallas’ Purple Party, shown here last month, was recently ranked No. 9 on GayTravel.com’s list of the top 20 LGBT events worldwide in 2013. However, the Purple Party wasn’t included on a list of major local events on the LGBT tourism website maintained by the Dallas Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. (Chuck Marcelo/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer

Doug Mayo has been to Dallas twice on press trips sponsored by the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau promoting LGBT travel to the city.

Mayo published and wrote for a gay publication in the United Kingdom called Beige.

“I’ve found Dallas to be an inspiring city,” he said. “I have a love of the arts and was genuinely surprised to find such a thriving and substantial arts community in the city.”

Mayo said he’s remained friendly with people in Dallas who welcomed him — and he’s even thought of packing up and moving here. He credited Michael Doughman and David Berryman of the Dallas Tavern Guild, the city’s association of gay bars, for staging a successful annual tour for LGBT travel writers. This weekend, six travel writers from the U.S. and Europe are in town for the 10th annual Dallas International LGBT Travel Writers press tour.

The Tavern Guild partners with the CVB and the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce to put together the tour.

Although most expenses are donated by participating airlines, hotels and restaurants, Doughman said the total cost would be an estimated $40,000 to $45,000. It’s a small price to pay to tap into the $70-80 billion annual LGBT travel market.

But while the press tour has been a continuing bright spot, questions have emerged about other aspects of the CVB’s LGBT travel marketing campaign, which began in earnest in 2004.

The CVB dropped its chief consultant for LGBT marketing in 2011, and its LGBT website has been scaled back to one page that contains outdated information. Meanwhile, the president of the Dallas Bears, whose Texas Bear Round-Up brings hundreds of thousands to Big D each year, complained about a lack of cooperation from the CVB.

In response to those concerns, CVB officials said they are reorganizing and relaunching the LGBT marketing campaign — and will actually be spending more money on it than ever, including national print advertising in publications such as The Advocate.

“We’re engaging community leaders,” said Veronica Torres, the CVB’s former director of diversity and community relations, who now serves as experience director. “We’re working more strategically.”

She said the CVB has an office in Washington, where many national LGBT organizations are based, selling Dallas as an LGBT destination and promoting the city to travel planners at events like the

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POSITIVE TRAVEL STORIES CAN HAVE A BIG IMPACT | LGBT travel writers from the U.S. and Europe visit the Dallas Arts District on Thursday, May 9, during the 10th annual Dallas International LGBT Travel Writers press tour. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

International Lesbian and Gay Travel Association convention.

Big changes for  ‘GLBT Dallas’
Steve Jolly owns SRJ Communications, which did marketing and public relations and maintained the LGBT website for the CVB from 2004-2011. But those functions for the CVB’s four “Diverse Dallas” groups — LGBT, African-American, Asian and Latino — have since been brought in-house.

The “GLBT Dallas” website that Jolly managed was a place to find a list of nightclubs, gay-friendly restaurants and other venues of interest to the LGBT community.

Since coming in-house, an entire website devoted to the community has been reduced to one page with three links and a list of just nine events — two of which no longer exist.

The Fort Worth CVB also does LGBT outreach, which started as a recommendation of the Task Force formed after the Rainbow Lounge Raid. The FWCVB is a co-sponsor of the press tour, which includes a night in the city.

Marianne Roth, vice president of marketing and communications for the Fort Worth CVB, said her agency is funded primarily through hotel taxes.

The Fort Worth CVB’s website also has a page devoted to marketing the LGBT community. But the page is more political, possibly in an effort to overcome the city’s image that was tarnished by the Rainbow Lounge raid. Links connect the CVB to a number of the city’s organizations beyond those that are tourist related, like Tarrant County Gay Pride Week, QCinema and the rodeo, as well as community groups like PFLAG and Fort Worth Transgender Support.

The Dallas CVB receives funding through the hotel tax but also sells memberships. That may be one of the problems the Dallas CVB is having in reorganizing its diversity marketing. If none of the clubs or restaurants on Cedar Springs are members of the CVB, is there any relationship between the businesses and the agency and does the agency have any incentive to market them?

Among the LGBT events not listed on the CVB website that bring the most visitors to Dallas are the Texas Bear Round Up and the Purple Party. GayTravel.com recently ranked the Purple Party as No. 9 on its list of top 20 LGBT events worldwide for 2013.

Purple Foundation President Blake Baker said he hopes to use more of the CVB resources next year.

About 40 percent of attendees come from out-of-town, and the CVB helped the organization find its new host hotel.

“The Dallas CVB is good at opening doors and making connections that would be difficult to get otherwise,” he said.

But TBRU had a different experience.

About 1,800 visitors from 48 states and 14 countries sold out eight hotels for TBRU this year, after filling the host hotel within two hours of opening reservations. Dallas Bears President Wayne Davis said many more attended some of the parties and other events without bothering to register. Because the weekend has grown so much, he said they were hoping to find a bigger hotel to better accommodate them.

 “We reached out [to the CVB] several times, and they never came around,” he said.

To make the weekend even larger, Davis was hoping the CVB would help his group connect with possible business sponsors as well.

North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tony Vedda suggested local LGBT groups contact his organization as a starting point. In addition to information he has about marketing Dallas as an LGBT destination, he said he could make an introduction to the right person at the CVB.

Mayor’s actions called ‘problematic’
Bre Peterson, Dallas CVB public relations project manager, said the diversity division is being revamped.

Budgets are currently being worked out but money for marketing to the LGBT community has actually increased, she said. She said tentative plans call for some advertising in national publications and marketing efforts with groups such as Black Tie Dinner and GLAAD.

GLAAD will hold a pool party with out actor Wilson Cruz as a featured guest in June.

GLAAD’s James Shackelford called it the largest event the organization’s Dallas chapter has attempted since relaunching. The CVB purchased a sponsorship, but Shackelford said it won’t be participating in marketing the event.

“Their sponsorship will help us increase our marketing,” he said.

One of the most successful recent LGBT conferences in Dallas was the October 2011 Out & Equal Workplace Summit, which had an economic impact of millions of dollars at the Hilton Anatole, the host hotel, and participants spent even more at surrounding hotels, area restaurants and businesses on Cedar Springs Road.

Out & Equal’s chief marketing officer, Teddy Witherington, credited the robust local chapter with bringing the 2011 national conference to Dallas. But he said in deciding which city to choose, the group balances “those cities that need us with those cities that feed us.”

He said they consider which cities have a track record of implementing change with those cities that could benefit from an appearance. While it wouldn’t be a deciding factor, he called Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings’ refusal to sign a pledge in support of same-sex marriage last year “problematic.”

While there’s not one deciding factor, Witherington said his organization takes its cues from the local community. Arizona, for example, is a state Out & Equal is not currently considering because of the governor’s push to remove benefits from same-sex couples and other anti-gay legislation.

“We want to ensure we go where our attendees can have the best experience,” he said.

And with rave reviews from attendees last time, Dallas is on the short list for a 2017 return visit.

Does D-FW need a gay landmark?
The LGBT press tour has been a consistently successful tool to sell Dallas as a gay and lesbian travel destination.

Doughman called the LGBT press tour the most successful of the CVB’s niche market press junkets. The CVB bases success on distribution of articles written and advertising value per page of editorial copy.

The current tour is expected to generate 1.8 million views. Doughman said many travel writers come to Dallas with preconceived notions.

“They think of this as a red state and include us in that,” he said. “A lot of travel writers are afraid to come. Dallas is a big surprise to them when they get here.”

Dallas wasn’t the first city to market to the LGBT tourism community. Philadelphia began a marketing campaign aimed at gay and lesbian travelers more than 10 years ago.

Bruce Yelk is director of public relations at the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. His city’s press trips showcase art and dining and target mostly the drive market from New York to Washington, Yelk said.

He measures the success of his city’s campaign through surveys. Before the marketing effort began, Philadelphia ranked in the top 25 travel destinations among LGBT leisure travelers. In recent years, the city has ranked in the top 10.

Today, Philadelphia boasts being the only city that received 100 on Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index without needing bonus points.

Yelk said his organization spends $200,000 per year marketing to the LGBT community. Research shows that the average LGBT visitor to his city spends 75 percent more on lodging than general market visitors and 68 percent more on food and beverages.

He said he’d like to see marriage equality come to the state next as a way of continuing to attract gay and lesbian tourism to the city.

How much LGBT convention business comes to a city is easy to track, according to Doughman.

“But there’s no way to document the leisure traveler,” Doughman said. “We know from clubs and businesses on Cedar Springs there are a lot of people from out of town.”

And that number is increasing.

But there’s no way to track if they are gays and lesbians who happen to be in town on business or if they saw a travel story about the city in a local gay publication and decided to come see Texas.

Positive travel stories keep Dallas on the radar as an LGBT destination and influence the decision to bring a meeting to town, he said.

Upcoming groups include the National Gay and Lesbian Chambers of Commerce Business and Leadership Conference, the International Gay Bowling Association tournament, the GALA chorus convention and the gay softball world series.

Rafael McDonnell, communications and advocacy manager of Resource Center Dallas, said effective marketing of a city takes more than a Visitors Bureau website.

He gave examples from several cities he’s visited. He mentioned a historical marker across from Independence Hall in Philadelphia commemorating a gay rights demonstration that predated Stonewall.

On Halsted Street in Chicago, he said, pillars have rainbow stripes and historic markers.

“It says ‘this is historically a gay neighborhood,’” he said. “And it’s a distinctive neighborhood feature.

It’s important to show off what we’ve done.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 10, 2013.

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